One of the most exciting stories in the New Testament is the calling of the John and James from their occupation as fisherman. Here were two brawny men, used to the rigors of fishing, busily tending their father’s nets. Yet, at the command of a total stranger, they left their work, and, ignoring their duty to their father, followed Jesus. They left all that represented security and home life for what? What was so compelling about this stranger that made the two Zebedee brothers walk away from their livelihood? Not only did they leave their families and their work but they also invited other fishermen to do the same.
But it was not just fishermen who gave up their security to follow Jesus. Zacchaeus, though small of stature demonstrated a giant faith as he left his work as a tax collector to follow Jesus. Having made reparation to those he had cheated and amply provided for those who were poor, he was free to exchange physical security for spiritual certainty. Mary from Magdala, healed by Jesus, became the woman who appears to have been responsible for organising food and shelter for her beloved Master during the time he was travelling and preaching. In fact, those who heard him were torn between continuing the day-by-day business of living and satisfying the spiritual hunger Jesus had awakened in their souls. Those who could trust God to care for them just as God cared for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air; chose Jesus.
Throughout history countless other men and women have left family and friends and the security of home and occupation to follow Jesus. These Christians are those who have moved beyond the God of Deuteronomy and Leviticus – the God of the Law who demands punishment for all the mistakes we make in our lives. They have moved beyond the God who is the Absolute Other – the Holy Priest – who cannot bear to associate with sinners – who can acknowledge us only when we have become pure through sacrificial blood. They have encountered Yahweh, the God who Jesus called Abba. This is the God who waits for us to return and then welcomes us as did the father of the Prodigal son, with abundant blessings. This is the same God who knows our fears, who has witnessed our pain, who stands with us when everything we know and love has turned to ashes.
This is the God Abraham knew and trusted so implicitly he could take his wife and his servants and, without any written assurances or contract, leave all he knew for the land God promised him. Abraham accepted the promise of a land set apart for himself and his heirs even though his marriage was childless. This is the God who revealed himself to Moses, the God who could transform this murderer into a leader of Israel, the man destined to lead the nation out of slavery.
This is the God who dwells within us, waiting for us to realize finally we belong to our Creator, and start living lives that reflect the light of God’s absolute love. It is when we know the God who lives within not only us, but also every other person in this world. Jesus spoke of loving our neighbours as we love and care for ourselves, yet how often do we actually love those who live nearby, or who we meet in the street.
Those have lived in other countries with their distinctive cultures and beliefs, discover these people are just the same as we are. Their skins may be of a different colour to ours, their language strange, the gods they worship quite alien to our background. Shakespeare, in “The Merchant of Venice” allows the Jewish moneylender Shylock to impress the court with the speech in which he points out that, no matter to what race we belong, our blood is always red, and we bleed if we are hurt. I recommend this speech in its entirety for those who believe that people from other countries or other races are less worthy than we are.
Folk who travel abroad very soon find that all people are God’s children. If we are prepared to follow Jesus’ admonition to love our neighbours we will find our hearts and minds open to the cries of countless families devastated by famine and poverty in Africa, while our ears ring with the voices of hundreds of thousands in Asia whose homes and families have been destroyed by earthquakes, tsunamis, landslips and fire.
When God created humanity, we were given the responsibility to care for the land, the oceans, plant and animal life and for each other. All we have has been given by God, health, home, finances, friends and talents. We are caretakers of all these blessings and it is our responsibility in love to share all we have with those who are needy. If God is truly directing our thoughts and steps and we know that we are here just to share love with those around us, then we acknowledge nothing we own is truly our own possession. God’s direction in our lives can cause us to offer all we have to those in need. We can never be assured of another day on this earth, and the cries of our brothers and sisters continue to remind us that today is the day appointed by God to be love’s light-bearers.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people bring as our gifts to the world the experiences we have of living out forgiveness towards those who have harmed us; we offer unequitable peace to those who know only the brutality and loss armed conflict brings in its wake. We bring hope, the hope we have found in our relationship with God, to those for whom there seems no hope in this life. We who have known doors slammed in our faces open our homes and lives to those who find themselves homeless. All who have been turned away from churches, and from ministry opportunities by those who consider us as flawed, offer the knowledge that God does not dwell within church buildings or within creeds, but finds a dwelling place within every human heart. It is said we have an uncanny knack of being able to recognise each other from a distance, we also recognise the indwelling God within the lives of those who seek to defame and destroy us. By living out Christ’s love, though it may cost us all we own, we are completing the task for which we were born, we are living the life to which we are called.
Rev. Vera I. Bourne of Lismore, N.S.W., Australia, served as Outreach Clergy at Christs Community Church.